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Copper-based cable has long formed the backbone of networks and over time has proven itself as both a reliable and easily managed media. Today's modern network environments, however, with their intensive high-speed data needs, are finding the limitations of copper-based cabling far too restrictive. Fiber-optic solutions are replacing copper infrastructures in many network applications, and as far as Fibre Channel-based networks are concerned, fiber cabling has emerged as the undisputed media of choice.
The advantages of implementing a fiber-optic cable solution are well documented. Simply put, fiber-based media does not suffer from the same restrictions and limitations of copper-based cable. Namely, it's immune to the effects of electromagnetic interference (EMI), radio frequency interference (RFI), and voltage surges. This is particularity important when it is necessary to run cables near electrical hardware, making fiber well suited for intra-floor conduits and for wiring duct spaces that often run close to florescent lights or other sources of RFI and EMI.
In addition, fiber optic cable is far less susceptible to signal loss (attenuation), enabling it to carry data signals significantly farther than its copper counterpart. While fiber cable does suffer from attenuation to a lesser degree, as with copper cable, a repeater can be used to boost signal integrity and increase the distance the cable can be run. In practical application, copper media may need repeating devices every 100 meters, whereas fiber cable may not require a signal boost until after a few kilometers. This means that along the same length of line, fiber-optic cable requires fewer boosting devices than copper cable.
While the advantages of implementing a fiber optic solution are clear, so too are the disadvantages. Unfortunately, a fiber-optic system is largely incompatible with the existing hardware infrastructure of many organizations. This deficit forces those organizations that wish to implement fiber optics to retrofit the current network infrastructure to accommodate a fiber-optic network. This is a costly endeavor. Furthermore, fiber cable is more difficult to physically install than copper media and often requires trained personnel and specialized tools.